Monday, February 23, 2009

Megan Vs. Short Story Round 1

Once upon a time not so very long ago, I decided I would like short stories. Not that I did like short stories, that I would like short stories. This is rather a bizarre decision because but for a few in high school that survived rigorous overanalyzation and still came out on top, I don't have much of a track record with the things. I either don't read them, or read them and don't understand or very much enjoy them. I get a brief peak into some situation or characters and it's not enough to answer all the questions burning in my mind, which is also startlingly ironic considering I don't have an inquiring mind at all. It's why I don't do author interviews. It's why I'm no good at keeping small talk going. It's probably why I do such a dismal job at interviewing for jobs. Questions just don't burn in my mind begging for answers. At least, not at the right times.

Nonetheless, I saw all the bloggers reading the short stories and loving them and figured I was missing out on some crucial reading experience (or, my childish mind at that moment whined, "I want to be like the cool kids!"). They were stories, they were short, other people liked them, and they make for an easy blog post for your local lit blogger, no? "What's not to like?" my easily rationalized mind asked, and so I set about acquiring them. I bought authors' collections of short stories. I stretched out my hand for an anthology or two. I won one in a blog contest. I grabbed a review copy of one. When I saw that my mom was being offered a great price, I even subscribed to a year of the New Yorker ("Oooh, cheap! And they have short stories!")...and then another. Having done all this, I think in the year and maybe a half that I've been blogging I have read a grand total of two, both compliments of the only two New Yorkers I've managed to read cover to cover, and it does demand to be read cover to cover, you know. The first was a selection by Louise Erdrich, of whose books I have read two. One which was excellent, one of my favorites, and one which left me oh so cold. The short story followed in the trail of the latter. I didn't understand it or think it had enough of a point to even make a blog post about it.

Now I've read this second one, and I didn't particularly like it either, but I do like to think that maybe I understood it. So, I thought, why not start a totally irregular blog feature wherein I duel with short stories (*ahem* comment on them and announce whether or not the story "beat" me or not)? You can expect to see this feature maybe twice in the next year if I keep up with my dismal track record. Keep in mind, of course, that my viewpoint may be slightly skewed considering the fact that there is no evidence on record to suggest that I might actually like any short story.

But anyway, the short story.

Having read the rest of the March 24, 2008 issue (yes, I know, almost a year old, Megan) complete with charming essay about getting a little too friendly with spiders by David Sedaris and a mildly intriguing story about a chef opening up a new restaurant, I found "The Region of Unlikeness" by Rivka Galchen whose debut novel is apparently forthcoming.

"...In Augustine's view, we live in what he calls the region of unlikeness, and what we're unlike is God. We are apart from God, who is pure being, who is himself, who is outside of time. And time is our tragedy, the substance we have to wade through as we try to move closer to God. Rivers flowing to the sea, a flame reaching upward, a bird homing: these movements represent objects yearning to be their true selves, to achieve their true states. For humans, the motion reflects the yearning for God, and everything we do through time comes from moving - or at least trying to move - toward God. So that we can be...our true selves. So there's a paradox there again, that we must submit to God - which feels deceptively like not being ourselves - in order to become ourselves..."

The story is about an unnamed female narrator who by chance (or is it?) happens upon a pair of men having an intellectually pompous discussion about Wuthering Heights in a coffee shop on the Upper West Side. Having thus encountered the two men, Jacob and Ilan, the narrator is drawn into their society despite her dislike for Jacob who is rather a boor (or is it bore?). Something like love develops between the narrator and Ilan, but then the latter disappears all of a sudden. Despite efforts to pin down Jacob, the narrator can't seem to get a straight answer out of him as to Ilan's whereabouts. As the narrator goes about trying to convince herself that she shouldn't need to find Ilan yet can't stop herself from wondering and looking, a sense of unreality prevails.

As it turns out, the narrator's relationship with the two men is more complex than she can imagine. I won't ruin the surprise, but it involves time travel, the grandfather paradox, and inescapable fate a la Oedipus. In other words, I'll admit that it was rather intriguing and thought-provoking, but as usual when it comes to my reading of short stories, even after thinking it through and arriving at what may actually be the "right" conclusion about the events that transpired in the story, I still feel like I very well might have missed something crucial and am thus left feeling vaguely unsatisfied.

So, then...

Short stories: 1, Megan: 0


  1. I really like short stories when they are well-done. I think I find it difficult for me to find ones that I think are well-done. A lot of them leave me cold and have me wondering what the point was, so in that you are not alone.

  2. I used to do the same 'decide I would like something' too. It never worked, so your post made me smile! :)

    That being said, I'm picky about short stories, so maybe you just haven't found the ones that work for you yet?

  3. The short story thing is a problem. I personally enjoy reading certain short stories but have a tendency to get bored with others. I prefer longer short stories, that is short stories bordering on novellas. Two page long short stories need to be truly remarkable for me to like them (Chekhov did pretty well in getting me interested).

    Still, if you don't like short stories it's okay. Most people don't. It's one of those things. Take comfort in knowing you are not alone.

  4. Megan, I'm with you. I'm never entirely certain I get the point of most short stories or I find myself wanting to know more - either about the characters themselves or what happened before or after the story. So, I'm not a big short story reader.


  5. Know what's funny? Ironic, even? I'm not a fan of the short story, either. I wasn't good at writing them in grad school, either.

    So now look at The Demo Tapes, my first published book. What's it full of?

    What could best be called short stories.

    Makes me wonder if maybe we're looking at the wrong kind of short stories, ya know?

  6. I love reading short stories, and pick up the Best American series every year, but like you, I sometimes find they are beyond my ken. And you know what? I'm okay with that. Because out of every volume of short stories I read, there are bound to be those I love, those I like, and those I don't care for. They're in small enough doses that I don't feel like I've wasted my time, even on the ones I don't like.

    So I'm a fan of this new feature on your blog. Maybe I'll have to trail along after you and challenge myself to beat the short stories, too!

  7. Great idea for a blog feature. I hope you'll do it more than twice a year! I've grown to appreciate short stories more, the more I read, but there are still some I don't see the point of.

  8. I don't like short stories either. I've tried and tried, and they just don't click with me. Not my bag, baby. :)

  9. Did you read the one Eva wrote about yesterday? Chicxulb, it's even available online, not too long, and definitely worth a read.

  10. Megan, don't you dare ever quit blogging, okay? You never fail to make me smile...or laugh right out loud.
    And you know, I'm betting on you! In the long haul, I think you're going to kick ol' short story's ass! And I was actually going to suggest you go read Chicxulb, too, but Ali beat me to it. I'm guessing you'll really like that one. :)